Why Physical Education Should Be a Priority for Schools

  • November 13, 2019
Karonda Locust, Parent Cather Elementary And Parents United Member

Every year, we host the Change for Good Luncheon, Healthy Schools Campaign’s (HSC) annual event to bring focus to our work to make schools healthier places for all children and highlight new initiatives. This year we focused on lifting up the voices and experiences of parents and community leaders and invited public officials to hear and respond to their recommendations. This year, an audience of nearly 200 parents, community members and leaders from our civic, business, health and education communities heard a panel of grassroots leaders speak about their work in school health services, physical education, green schoolyards, school food and accountability. We invited public officials to listen and respond to those priorities. This series of blogs lays out those priorities and responses and highlights our policy recommendations to the recently elected Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

When Karonda Locust was growing up, she lived in Logan Square and her local school had three gyms. “Kids could play outside at all times,” she said at the Change for Good Luncheon. “But now as a mother of three young girls, I live in a lower income community where we don’t have many resources. We don’t have three gyms in our school.”

But, the school does have a Space to Grow schoolyard, which provides the children with a safe place to be physically active. Research shows that physically active students are more likely to attend school, are better able to focus and perform better academically.

That’s why parents leaders from our Parents United for Healthy Schools program, including Locust and Patricia Morales helped collect more than 4,000 testimonials in support of high-quality physical education from Chicago parents. “In my experience and from other parents, we have seen that there are schools without physical education teachers, without adequate facilities and equipment, with scheduling challenges,” Patricia said at the Luncheon. “Above all we need physical education to be seen as a priority.”

While Chicago Public Schools has a strong PE policy, many students still lack access to high-quality daily PE. Unfortunately, only 31 percent of elementary and middle schools offer the mandated 150 minutes per week of PE and just 57 percent of high schools offer daily PE to all grade levels, according to the district’s self-reported data. In 2017, Illinois weakened its standard by changing a daily requirement to only three days a week and allowing some middle school and high school students to skip PE.

Jess Ruiz, the Deputy Governor of Illinois, said the state is working on a school construction taskforce to figure out the best use of capital funds to work through the 15 year backlog of capital projects. “Do we have all the facilities—not only white board and classrooms, yes, those are critical—also those facilities that schools needs to take care of the entire wellbeing of every child,” he said. Those include facilities for recess and physical education, Ruiz said.

Our recommendations to support physical activity and promote wellness include strengthening both state and CPS policies to bring them into alignment with recommended practices. All children deserve high-quality PE that is taught in fully equipped gyms and outdoor spaces from qualified teachers who receive professional development. We are co-chairing a taskforce with taskforce to learn how schools are meeting the district’s policy, understand gaps, and identify the resources needed to fully implement high quality PE in all Chicago schools.